Over the past few years a small group of guys has periodically chartered a boat in Moeraki and headed out about 10 km offshore to fish for blue cod. I have sometimes gone with them. We each pay $100, leave the Moeraki wharf at about 7 am and return at lunchtime with a total of about 40 kg of fillets. Rods and reels and bait are supplied, help is given removing fish from hooks and the fish are filleted on board. It's a food gathering exercise, pure and simple, but the fishing is not the only reason I tag along. That far from shore, the bird life is astonishing.

There are the usual red billed and black backed gulls, of course and also terns, petrels and prions. But what I go to see are the albatrosses. As we head out from shore they begin to follow in their ones and twos. There are the little albatrosses, the New Zealand White Capped Mollymawks, with a wingspan of a mere 2 metres. We chug out to sea doing perhaps 12 knots, and these glide past a twice that speed, rest on the water, wait for us to get a kilometre or so in front, then glide past again in a game akin to leapfrog.

 When the fish begin to arrive, numbers increase until it is not uncommon to have 40 or 50 of them around the boat. The fish are filleted on board and the skeleton complete with  head and guts is tossed overboard where it is swallowed whole by one of the birds after a keen contest to reach it and take it.

As numbers gather the mollymawks get bolder. They sit at the end of the lines and will try and snatch fish from the hooks before they can be landed.

Soon the big girls and boys arrive; the Royal Albatrosses with their 3 metre wingspans

They glide in with a mastery of skill that amounts to genius. With barely a flap they sweep past at 3 or 4 times the windspeed using their great feet as rudders and aerilons.

They sit quietly with the mollymawks, waiting for the fish carcases

They are fearless in approaching the boat and seem to have procedures well sussed. They leave hooks well alone, seeming to know that the tidbit of bait on offer is nothing compared to the prize that awaits. Then, when the real bounty is on offer they show no respect for man or machine.

We return when we have filled our quota, and as we near shore the numbers begin to decline, so that the last kilometre or two back to land is in the company of the (seemingly) tiny gulls.


Elaine Dent said…
:-)'Love how it is not only about fish and food but this bird community as well.
VenDr said…
I think the boat owner is missing a whole market. He should set up trips for photographers and/or bird watchers. Some fish waste to keep the birds near the boat and he'd have some pretty happy customers. He could charge the same as a fishing trip and it would be less work for him.
Katherine said…
Marvelous images. I highjacked them when you posted on FB. They have been admired on the Ornithological Society FB page for a while now...